Grief is a Thing with Feathers – O’Reilly Theatre – Review by Simon Jewell
The fourth collaboration of writer/director Enda Walsh and Cillian Murphy (Disco Pigs, Mistermen, Ballyturk) is an ambitious take on how to comprehend indescribable grief. Adapted from the novel by Max Porter, the widowed father (Cillian Murphy) distinguishes it as: “Grief feels four-dimensional, abstract.”
When we first meet Murphy’s character, the feelings of loss are raw, complex and indecipherable. There’s a softness to his grief, of losing his wife and being left to raise two young boys alone. The initial shock seems to have overwhelmed him into a state of neurotic disposition. This manifestation of grief overflows into the volatile alter ego ‘Crow’. The hooded Murphy prowls around the stage, in an almost vaudeville-like state, screaming through a microphone in demonic tones and encompassing an unnerving side to grief. “I won’t leave you until you don’t need me anymore,” Crow menacingly announces in part consolation and part threatening tone.
Murphy’s hesitant delivery reveals a man who is bewildered with life after loss. It’s emotionally disarming to have such a split relationship towards grief, which Murphy plays to flawless perfection. His portrayal of the father is relatively subdued, which helps to create a sense of balance against the overwhelming ‘Crow’. Similarly to Walsh’s Arlington (2016), which deals with grief in a similarly abstract way, we are brought on this journey as much as the script coherently allows. The instances of opaque despair become uneven and static to the fluidity of the piece yet there is something transformative of the feelings of grief when art confronts the subject.
It is a journey that is overall immensely satisfying. This production tests the boundaries of what theatre is, or can be, constantly taunting and breaking the fourth wall as it seamlessly shifts between extreme abstractions. The audio/visual effects displayed upon Jamie Vartan’s sterile and desolate set are utilised to their full effect but can be at times distracting and overblown. In an ambitious attempt to bring Max Porter’s page to stage, the emotional impact is somewhat lost through a sensory overload. Yet Murphy, as the father, can hold the stage alone, especially in the delicate latter stages where he hesitantly listens to recordings of his deceased wife on tape. The story becomes a tale of survival through it all. In the end, it might be a struggle to understand all you see and hear from this production, but Walsh and Murphy have crafted a deeply moving adaptation, that leaves you frightened, exhilarated and cautiously wanting more.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers is produced by Complicité and Wayward Productions in association with Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival.
It runs in the Black Box Theatre in Galway until March 24th, and the O’Reilly Theatre, Dublin, from March 28th-April 7th.